Amplified Conferences: Are We There Yet?

This year’s Eduserv Symposium 2009, held on Thursday 21st May, 2009 at the Royal College of Physicians, London, was titled ‘Evolution or revolution: The future of identity and access management for research’. Interesting…but not really my cup of tea.

What was my cup of tea was the way the event was amplified. Eduserv used a company called Switch New Media to pull together a number of resources including the live stream, the programme, live Twitter feed, live blog (Scribble Live) and speaker details. (Apparently Switch New Media were also involved in the amplification of the JISC Conference and the JISC Libraries of the Future event in Oxford).

The video footage itself was incredible, there were a number of different camera angles, close ups and long shots of the audience. For me the only thing that seemed to be missing was the actual slides (though these were shown as part of the stream footage).

Eduserv also provided a social network prior to the event and had a number of staff attending to remote attendee needs. For example I saw Mike Ellis from Eduserv ask a speaker a question after discussion with a remote attendee through the live blogging.

The Eduserv Symposium Home page

The Eduserv Symposium Home page

I’ve dipped into a number of streamed events but have to say that this is the first time I have felt like the only thing I was missing was the coffee break banter and the lunch queue!

The CILIP in Scotland 09 event was also recently streamed and the team were keen to try out new amplified approaches. Ian Edelman, Web manager at Hants Council wrote an interesting post entitled At least I didn’t have to go to Scotland on his experience of the event.

He comments:

I did, however, feel dislocated from the action and not seeing the speaker made it more difficult to follow the presentation. Sound quality could have been better. I had to move through the slides myself rather than the speaker doing it, so a couple of times I got out of sync. But all in all it worked and as technology improves the experience should as well.

Brian Kelly also wrote a blog post on CILIP2.0 event held in London not long before the Scottish CILIP event. In his post the Lessons Learnt from the Amplification of the CILIP2 Event he talks in more detail about specifics (mainly technical) that could have improved the day.

So are we there yet?

Live streaming, sharing resources and remote attendance of conference is becoming pretty mainstream so the question is really are we there yet? In the past I’ve tried to follow events but unless I was really keen to see a speaker I’ve always ended up turning off and getting on with something else. The experience just didn’t work for me.

I’m no expert on the technologies involved in streaming an event but appreciate that not all organisations can pay for a dedicated company to ensure all the pieces fit together, however these days most technologies needed can be used for free. So assuming that the technology isn’t a problem what are the most important factors and what do we still have to learn? Note that I’m talking here as a user/consumer of the event – not as an event provider.

  • Inform people before the event – make sure you let people know what is happening in advance, put the details out there (on your Web site, on your blog, on Twitter etc.) Share tags and location of resources.
  • Involve them before the event – Allow them to be part of the community, join in any social networking, chat etc.
  • Keep it together – Have a main page for the event and if possible embedd all your the resources on it. Link to everything. Something like the Onetag idea might be a start.
  • Give remote people a voice – Have someone monitor Twitter and any live blogging, pass on their feedback to speakers and ask their questions for them. Have a remote contact for the event.
  • Inform people after the event – make sure you continue to let people know where all the resources are and attempt to get any screen casts up as quickly as possible.
  • Follow it up – Try and get feedback from remote attendees, check blog post on the event, have a look at your stats. Take all you learn on board.

I’m sure there is more too it than that but right now it seems to be very much about making people feel involved.

I’d add to this list an issue for those actually at an event but relating to amplifying of it – respect your delegates. There can be issues with filming delegates, especially when taking close up footage. There are many ways to deal with this: for example by asking people to agree to be filmed when booking to attend, or by asking them when they arrive. This is could be too dictatorial so another option might be to offer a no-go filming area in the auditorium.

At UKOLN we’ve been amplifying conferences for some time (See Brian Kelly’s post back from September 2007) but we are always learning. I’m going to try and take as much of this on board as I can when I sit in the other side of the fence and offer video streaming of an event I organise: The Institutional Web Management Workshop 2009. Any feedback will be much appreciated!